Often, in catalog copy, you’ll see an item’s description claiming that it is unique or useful or beautiful.
And that’s fine, maybe the product is unique or useful or beautiful, but what makes the item that way? What trait or feature does it have that sets it apart? Savvy buyers will want to know.
Instead of making generalized claims of wonderfulness by using generic words (like unique, useful, beautiful, special, pretty), why not include specifics that spell out why the product is, in fact, so remarkable? The shrewd catalog copywriter will be sure to take this approach.
Let me give you some examples of wimpy words.
I came across this copy for protective boots for horses:
The new Eskadron Pure Collection has arrived. A great collection for competition wear.
This copy was accompanied by a photo of a pair of sparkling white boots lined with luxurious-looking material. I clicked to the web site to see if I could learn why they would be ideal for competition wear.
The web site copy shared this:
The white faux fur tendon boots. Great for warming up at competitions. Crystal white, touch outer and lovely soft faux fur. Machine washable.
Okay, so the copy’s established that these boots are great, but why? What makes them great?
Great because the boots’ Velcro™ fasteners make it easy to get the boots off quickly? So your horse can wear them until just before it’s his turn in the arena? Or maybe the faux fur keeps your horse’s legs from getting sweaty?
The vagueness of the word great leaves so much selling left undone.
Another example I found was in one of those little real estate booklets that you can pick up for free.
The copy was minimal, only 3 ½ lines. The first line and a half had this to say about a townhouse listed at $739,000:
Evergreen Meadows, a quintessential New England Village.
Ouch. You have 3 ½ lines of text to sell someone on this rather expensive townhouse, and the first seven words tell you nothing concrete about the listing. And one of the words is “quintessential.”
Generic words in copy serve as filler and do nothing to promote a product. Specifics always outshine fluff and sell much more effectively.
It’s easy to sell to someone who has made up her mind about what she needs and the price she’s willing to pay. But not every shopper falls into that category.
Many are considering a purchase, but, for a variety of reasons, aren’t steadfast in their desire. These are the people who need persuading or justification. And this is where the inclusion of benefits in your copy comes into play.
The definition of benefit is something that is advantageous or good; an advantage.
Sure, you like a particular item and it would be nice to have, but do you really need it?
Maybe it’s a little pricey or maybe you don’t need more (for instance, another pair of shoes), or maybe you don’t need it right now.
In any of the scenarios described above, the mention of a benefit could be what sways the undecided or hesitant consumer to open her wallet.
I’ll use shoes as an example.
You’ve come upon a pair of navy blue shoes. You love the heel height and the look of the shoes. In that instant, you’ve decided that you might possibly buy them.
Here’s where sharp catalog copy is a must.
You’ve a potential buyer on the precipice, waffling about what to do. Your copy should cajole with a benefit and explain to your prospect why she needs to buy this.
Wearing jeans or a skirt today? This shoe adapts!
That copy might convince the reluctant buyer who feels she has too many shoes to take the plunge. “They won’t just sit in my closet!” Or, maybe she’d be able to justify buying them for this reason, even if they’re a bit more expensive than she’d like.
Aha! An advantage to making the purchase!
Shoes (that I don’t really need) that can be worn with a variety of outfits, so they won’t collect dust in my closet.
Explain to shoppers in your catalog copy why making a purchase will make their life better or easier and you’ll see your sales drastically improve.
At first glance, anyone starting out as a catalog copywriter might think that writing this type of copy should be easy – after all, you’re just describing a product. So, the more adjectives or highfalutin words you use, the better, right?
Just pull out that thesaurus and keep it handy. Who knew there were so many different ways to say “spacious,” like, commodious…really?
Catalog copywriters walk a fine line with the words that they choose to use to sell a product. And that fine line is the border between speaking to the reader in her language or speaking in a language that is foreign.
And how do you expect someone to know what you’re talking about if she doesn’t understand the language?
Writing clear, understandable catalog copy is key to making a sale. And clear, understandable catalog copy is copy that’s written for a specific audience - your customers.
When the catalog copywriter knows who she’s speaking to, her word selection should match her readers’ vocabulary. And in most cases (but not all), simpler is better.
Don’t think that your prospect is going to stop and refer to a dictionary when she comes across a word in your copy that she doesn’t know the meaning of. More likely, she’ll move on with annoyance or leave your Web site entirely.
Uh oh, another lost sale!
When you are required to use a “big” word, for example, because the manufacturer of the product says they want you to use it, be fair to your customer and explain it to her. Include its definition in the copy, so confusion is avoided.
Writing simple and clear copy probably won’t win many literary prizes, and that’s okay, since the purpose of a catalog’s copy is to produce a sale.
Since the nature of catalog copy is short, particularly for print catalogs, every word counts.
For this reason, the heading, what’s on top of the copy block, can play a huge role in making or breaking a sale.
Let me explain.
Essentially, there are two types of headings.
Examples of “Name” headings are “Dress” or “Lamp.” Plain and simple, these headings just tell you what the item is.
Examples of “Descriptive” headings are “All Business” (dress), and “Stylishly Bright” (lamp). These headings go beyond just telling you what the product is, they suggest what the product could represent.
Stay with me here now…
With these two heading types, there are three copy style choices.
Basic headline copy is bare bones: “Blue Linen Dress.”
To the point, no-nonsense. If I were looking for a blue linen dress, I’d definitely know I’d found one.
Romantic headline copy tries to provoke an emotional response: “CEO-In-Training.”
Hmmm, If I were an up-and-coming executive looking to professionalize my wardrobe, whoa, this would catch my eye.
Positioned copy, as the name states, helps position the product for its primary use: “Perfect for that Executive Board Meeting.”
This heading suggests to me where this dress would work best. Nice! I don’t have to figure it out.
So, what does this all mean for your copy?
Well, the right heading can drastically improve the likelihood of getting an order. And the right heading is the one that matches who your readers are. Which is why it’s so important to know this.
When you’ve got a good handle on who your customers are, what they want, the problems they face, you can tailor your headings to suit their needs and hopefully, convince them to take the plunge.
Sure, you can play it safe with straightforward, basic name headings, but for any given product, do you ever wonder if a little romanticizing might spur some impulse buys? Or if you use some clever positioning, perhaps your copy might unwittingly produce a convert or two?
Playing it safe isn’t always the best choice. A skillful copywriter can turn the mundane into the magnificent with a brilliant headline that romanticizes or positions.
Nothing guarantees a lost sale better than unclear copy, except for unclear copy paired with an unclear product image.
Your customers shouldn’t have to stop and contemplate what benefit your product offers because the copy and corresponding product image confuses them. If this occurs, well, let’s say things can go south quickly.
Let me show you an example of this scenario that I came across recently while browsing an equestrian online catalog:
Here’s part of the copy:
“The Acavallo Ortho Coccyx Seat Saver Gel Out for Jumping Saddles is designed to help those suffering from riding discomfort on their coccyx, pubis or seat bones. Based on the amazing success of the original Acavallo Gel Seat Saver, this latest generation takes comfort a step further.
The Ortho-Coccyx model features a recess in the rear part of the seat, which helps ease pressure in the areas around the rider’s tailbone and seat bones.”
The copy tells us that the Seat Saver Gel Out is for jumping saddles. The saddle image below was prominently displayed with the copy. Problem is, and I know this because I’m a horseperson and am familiar with different types of saddles, this saddle isn’t a jumping saddle, it’s a dressage saddle.
The other problem with this copy was the second paragraph where it says this particular seat saver model “features a recess in the rear part of the seat…”
Hmmm, this image didn't show me the recess, even when I hovered over it with my mouse to enlarge it.
So now, as a potential customer, I’m confronted with two conundrums. The first being that I’ve been told the product is designed for one type of saddle, a jumping saddle, but the image displayed is not a jumping saddle. Does that mean if I order the seat saver, I’ll get one that won’t fit my jumping saddle?
The second half of this conundrum is that a feature of the seat saver, the one that will benefit me by providing comfort, i.e. the recess, is not apparent in this image.
So, I have to use my imagination to figure out where the recess is located on the seat saver? No picture to support the slightly vague copy?
Luckily, just below the saddle image that was displayed was this image:
I clicked on it, and a completely different saddle image appeared – a jumping saddle! And it had the seat saver on it, clearly displaying the recess.
But what if I had never arbitrarily clicked on that Colors/Options image? What if I had just given up and left the page?
Another sale would’ve bitten the dust...
The takeaway here is this: Be sure that your copy and product images work together, so your customer never experiences any doubt.
A confused customer is going to look elsewhere, and you'll lose a sale.
Suzanne Quigley - Copywriter